By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, May 8 (Reuters) - Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov, once one of Russia's most influential men, was relieved of his duties on Wednesday in a power struggle between the Kremlin and government, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
The Kremlin said in a statement that President Vladimir Putin had accepted Surkov's resignation, one day after the former KGB spy reprimanded the government for failing to carry out many of his orders and decrees.
"It's of his own volition," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "It's to do with the fact that decrees were not carried out."
But Russian media and political analysts have long suggested a rift has opened up between Putin and Medvedev, his long-time ally and a former president, as Russia slides towards recession.
Sitting at the head of a long table with cabinet ministers on either side, their heads bowed, Putin scolded the government repeatedly at Tuesday's meeting - the latest signal he is losing patience with Medvedev over Russia's growing economic problems.
"Of course it's a strike against Medvedev," said Dmitry Oreshkin, an opposition-minded political analyst.
"It is a direct intervention by the president into the nomenklatura of the government. It turns out he was simply devoured. It will take some time and the prime minister will also be devoured."
Surkov, 48, was once Putin's top political adviser but he quit the Kremlin in December 2011 as Putin faced the biggest protests of his 13 years in power.
He had until now been responsible for overseeing government implementation of presidential decrees and innovation projects. His role will be taken by Arkady Dvorkovoich, a deputy prime minister and Putin's former chief economic adviser.
Once ranked as Russia's third-most-powerful political figure, after Putin and Medvedev, Surkov was long seen as the grey cardinal who manipulated events behind the scenes for Putin and helped him concentrate power in his own hands.
Half-Chechen, he also has a bohemian side. He has written songs for a Russian rock group, Agata Kristi, and is widely believed to be author of a novel called "Almost Zero" which was published under a pseudonym.
He had become increasingly distant from Putin since the protests began over the former KGB spy's plans to return to the presidency after four years as prime minister, a post Putin held while Medvedev kept the president's seat warm for him.
"The differences between them began long ago," a political source close to the Kremlin said of Putin's relationship with Surkov.
Surkov left the Kremlin when his mastery of the political scene was undermined at the start of the anti-Putin protests because the system he had helped create under Putin was now being questioned by the protesters.
He suddenly looked out of date as the Kremlin struggled initially to come up with ways to deal with the protests and Putin's early tactic of ignoring and, at times, mocking the protesters backfired on him by antogonising his opponents.
Surkov also traded barbs this week with the head of Russia's investigative committee, a Russian equivalent of the FBI, over an investigation into corruption at Skolkovo, a state-owned innovation hub created by Medvedev.
The committee is looking into embezzlement at the centre, which Medvedev created to try to diversify the oil-dependent economy. (Writing by Timothy Heritage, editing by Elizabeth Piper and Jon Boyle)